The NAS has a new edition of their Science, Evolution, and Creationism publication, which is a genuinely excellent piece of work. We’ve used the previous editions in our introductory biology course here at UMM, and if you want a short, plainly written introduction to the evidence for and importance of evolution to modern biology, I recommend it highly. It fills a niche well — it explains the science and gives a general overview for the layman without getting distracted by the details. And if $12 strains your wallet and 70 pages exceeds your attention span, you can download an 8 page summary for free. If you teach high school biology or have kids in high school, grab that: it’s an outline of what every educated adult ought to understand about evolution.
However, it does play the bland game of religious appeasement to a small degree, and although it is only a short part of the book, it’s a blemish that would have been better left out. The NY Times review plays up the religion-and-science-are compatible angle, unfortunately; as you might expect, Greg Laden doesn’t sound impressed and Larry Moran doesn’t fall for it. I don’t either. It’s not enough to dissuade me from urging more people to read the book, since it really is an inconsequential dollop of pablum tossed on top of some good science, but I have to say that it really looks stupid in there.
Here’s the short bit from the 8 page summary. This is all it says about science and religion, and it’s not enough to get irate about, but it is wrong and I can’t let it slide.
Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of
Understanding the World
Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience.
Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious
people and denominations accept the scientific evidence for evolution.
Our education system and our society as a whole are best served when we teach science,
not religious faith, in science classrooms.
Do science and religion offer different ways of understanding the world? Sure. One is verifiable, testable, and has a demonstrated track record of success; the other is a concoction of myths that actually leads to invalid conclusions. Perhaps it ought to be rephrased: science provides one way to understand the world, while religion provides millions of ways to misunderstand it.
Similarly, science addresses the natural, material aspects of the human experience, and allows us to probe such complex phenomena as the mind and our long, long history, while religion addresses the imaginary phenomena of nonexistent gods and spirits. It’s a delusional affliction that certainly has affected our material existence, and it ought to be treated as such, rather than respected as providing insight into the guiding power of a deity. And, yes, it is true that many religions accept evolution, to a limited degree. But many don’t. We could also mention that among the inhabitants of our insane asylums and prisons, there are some who accept evolution, and some who don’t. This is a null statement which says nothing about it’s truth.
As for the claim that many scientists have written eloquently about how science has enhanced their faith, name them. Francis Collins comes to mind, but his book does not warrant the label “eloquent” — it was a terrible book, unimpressive, klunky, and silly. Ken Miller is the other usual suspect, and I have to agree that when he writes and talks about science, he is eloquent…but he rode off the rails into quantum absurdity when he tried to incorporate his faith. Simon Conway Morris? Excellent paleontologist, but a writer with the prose style of a rusty rock hammer, and an annoyingly circumlocutary habit of avoiding stating his point. Roughgarden? Weird and sensitive to any slight, and just plain boring. How about Michael Dowd, who certainly is direct and enthusiastic? Nuts, and with the kind of loudly stereotypical eloquence of a televangelist. Teilhard de Chardin? Never mind.
I wouldn’t argue that Christians can’t be eloquent about their faith — far from it — but I haven’t found one that doesn’t sound kooky when they start trying to reconcile science with their belief in the Great Kazoo in the Sky, and their claims of “enhancement” ring as phony as an Enzyte commercial.
That paragraph is pure, meaningless pap, tossed in as a sop to the pious. Whenever you’ve got something written by a committee, you know there’s going to be someone who demands that their personal biases be given a nod of appreciation, and in this case, I’m sure there were people who disagreed but went along with it out of a well-meaning desire to be inoffensive.
They should have taken their last sentence to heart and left the insipid apologetics out of the book — they would have been far better served to have concentrated on teaching the science and left the unconvincing excuses out of the work altogether.